Residents with disabilities want more special transportation - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Residents with disabilities want more special transportation

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The Charlotte Area Transit System, which runs the special transportation's extra service for riders with disabilities outside the required area, is not able to provide service for everyone in the county who needs it. And that has some residents feeling stranded.

"It is frustrating that I can't take S.T.S. anymore" says Jeff Balek. "When I was able to take S.T.S before - in 2007 to 2010 - I was able to go any place I wanted."

The 33 year old Charlotte resident, who has been blind since birth, never let his visual impairment get in the way of living. Now, he and other residents with disabilities are facing a hurdle because the special transportation service extra program they've gotten used to isn't as available anymore.

Balek is taking cabs to get around.

He says "since I don't have S.T.S. anymore I feel it does take away my independence."

Advocates for people with disabilities say years ago they first started warning CATS that the transit system was over reaching when it started the extra program.

Julia Sain, of Disability Rights & Resources, says "that's what we told STS was happening - that they were making false promises to folks."

Cities with a bus service are required to provide a complimentary system for people with disabilities who live within a ¾ mile radius of a bus route.

Advocates say the special transportation system went above and beyond, and offered service to riders anywhere in Mecklenburg County. They say residents who were required to get rides were forced to wait longer than the law allows.

"So we wound up having to complain to Federal Government Office of Civil Rights Department of Justice the fact that people within that ¾ mile were being denied their civil rights" says Sain, the Executive Director of Disability Rights & Resources.

CATS started focusing the service on residents within the required area.

On its web site, the transit system says the program - known as S.T.S.11 -  is "an expansion of the Charlotte Area Transit System's (CATS), Special Transportation Service (STS).  STSII is not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so the service operates differently than CATS regular STS service.  STSII is provided as capacity allows. Ride requests that meet the requirements of the ADA take priority over STSII rides".

"When people call us and complain they're not being picked up – our first question is where do you live?" says Sain. "Most people who live in STS 11 didn't know they were in an extra program, didn't know they didn't have a right to it."

Jeff Balek is hoping CATS find a way to offer the service to all people with disabilities who need transportation.

A spokesperson for CATS tells WBTV "there is a new local route starting in June that will run along Highway 51 {which is close to Jeff's home} that may also make this individual's travel needs a bit easier". 

CATS says transit staff will be in contact with Balek to provide more information about travel options on this future route.

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